Find Your Community

by Cat Shook
published in Community

“This is my roommate, Cat. She’s a writer.”

I nearly lost my lunch the first time my friend, then roommate of six years, Ethan, introduced me that way at his birthday party. Ethan and I met in 2017 at work, folding hoodies at Lululemon in downtown Manhattan. We had both recently graduated from college. He dreamt of Broadway; I dreamt of a book with my name on it. But that wasn’t something I usually told people, certainly not at introduction.

I had been an English major (with an emphasis in Creative Writing) in college, which meant that I knew plenty about F. Scott Fitzgerald and very little about how to build an actual career as a writer. 

Sure, I was writing almost every day, but my job was to hawk Energy sports bras and Align pants. It would never have occurred to me to introduce myself as a writer, because in my mind, writers were people who got paid to write things that were then published. I had never been published anywhere, with a small stack of rejections from my high school and college literary magazines to prove it.

When I moved to the city after graduation, I didn’t do so alone. I was surrounded by friends from high school and college, none of whom were taking time in retail to figure things out. They were analysts at investment banks, assistants at interior design firms, journalism students. 

My coworkers at Lululemon, on the other hand, were all pursuing big, creative dreams. Suddenly, I had a community of people who had all moved to New York with aspirations they had nurtured since they were kids, since they got that first blue ribbon or won that talent show and felt something shift inside them that could never be undone. Most of this community consisted of performers, which I am most certainly not (this is a good reminder to burn the home video footage of a sixth grade talent fiasco I will not detail further) but for the first time, I had people to connect with about my somewhat ill-advised, thus far fruitless, and straight up unrealistic goals.

I had been working on a collection of short stories about some teenagers and then a young adult novel that both belong in the firepit right next to that home video footage. Then, Ethan and I moved in together. 

And then the pandemic hit. I had this idea for a novel I thought could be something, and suddenly, a lot of time on my hands. And most importantly, I had someone I had to face every day who knew these things.

Ethan did two really important things for me here, and these things are the difference between my having a novel out in the world and not. The first is that he recognized me, out loud, as a writer even before I felt comfortable recognizing myself as one, though of course, if you’re writing every day, whether you’re paid to do it or not: you’re a writer. 

The second thing he did was hold me accountable. Every day during lockdown, we would toil away at our day jobs, then eat dinner, drink several glasses of wine, and demand that the other person go into their room and not come out until they had gotten their writing done for the day. I’d go into my bedroom, try to figure out who this family was that wouldn’t shut up in my head, and he’d sit at his keyboard and write songs.

My debut novel came out last week, and those songs that Ethan wrote have been performed all over the world, including most recently at the Public. He also recently returned from a Broadway tour (let me brag on him, okay?). 

There are plenty of statistics out there that detail how much more likely people are to reach their goals when they declare them, out loud, to other people. I know that I would not have been able to complete a whole draft of a novel without him breathing down my neck (as I had requested), would not have had the bravery to really go for it had I not met all those other creatives I used to fold leggings alongside in Downtown Manhattan.

If you want to be a writer, institute a community for yourself. And they don’t have to be other writers; I think any creative pursuit will do.

In fact, if you’re the competitive type, it may be better for you to find a community of people who aren’t trying to do exactly what you’re trying to do. 

Either way, find a community who understands what it is you’re going for. Who you can complain to when things get tough. Who will encourage you, and who will not let you watch an episode of The Comeback until you’ve eked out 250 more words. You’ll do the same for them. 

And then, if you keep trying and get really lucky, you may be standing next to them on the corner of 87th and York one day, and your phone is ringing because there are offers on your novel, and you just might get to receive the news that your biggest, most closely held dream is coming true, right beside the person you couldn’t have done it without.

Catherine Shook graduated from the University of Georgia in 2016 with degrees in Creative Writing and Mass Media Arts. Born and raised in Georgia, she now lives in Manhattan. If We’re Being Honest is her first novel.

You can follow her on Instagram.

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